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Russians and Americans Sense a New Cold War

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Dina Smeltz , Lily Wojtowicz , Denis Volkov , and Stepan Goncharov
Fallout shelter sign on brick wall next to trees.

Russians and Americans seem to sense a global alignment of democracies versus autocracies, and both publics fear a nuclear exchange.

The current conflict in Ukraine is described by some as an inflection point in world history, and perhaps the end of the post-Cold War era. Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly seems to make foreign policy decisions designed to upend the US-European security order and dominate the countries he considers to be in Russia’s orbit. At the same time, US President Joe Biden has pitted the NATO struggle with Russia as well as the US competition with China as contests between democracies and autocracies. A recent public opinion survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Levada Center in Moscow shows that Russians and Americans view global divisions along Cold War lines. And in what may be the most alarming throwback to those days, large majorities in both countries fear an escalation to nuclear war.

Key Findings

  • The most recent survey readings show that Russian and American favorable views of the others’ country and leader have plummeted.
  • Both publics express strengthened appreciation for those countries considered friendly and growing hostility toward those they see as adversarial.
  • Russians are overwhelmingly positive toward Belarus (87%) and China (83%), compared to very few with favorable views of the United States (17%), the European Union (21%), and Ukraine (30%).
  • Americans tend to consider the United Kingdom (66%), France (53%), Poland (49%), the EU (48%), Germany (47%), and Ukraine (46%) as allies. By contrast, majorities view Russia as an adversary (57%) and China as either an adversary (22%) or rival (31%).
  • Most Russians (62%) and Americans (55% when last asked in 2019) support a containment strategy rather than one of cooperation toward the other country.
  • Both publics fear a nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States (69% in the United States and 83% in Russia consider this a critical threat).
About the Authors
Senior Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Dina Smeltz, a polling expert, has more than 25 years of experience designing and fielding international social and political surveys. Prior to joining the Council to lead its annual survey of American attitudes on US foreign policy, she served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department's Office of Research from 1992 to 2008.
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Janne E. Nolan Nuclear Security Fellow, Truman Center
Headshot photo of Lily Wojtowicz
Lily Wojtowicz is the Janne E. Nolan Fellow for Nuclear Security and a PhD student at American University. Her research interests are nuclear deterrence, alliance management, Russian public opinion, and US-Russian relations.
Headshot photo of Lily Wojtowicz
Denis Volkov
Director of the Levada Analytical Center
Deputy Director of the Levada Analytical Center
Stepan Goncharov
Sociologist, Levada Analytical Center
Stepan Goncharov
Stepan Goncharov is a senior research fellow at the Levada Center. Goncharov’s field of expertise and research interests include public opinion on international relations, use of media, and modern social processes in Russia. He is a regular contributor for (Riddle), an online-journal on Russian affairs. Gonhcarov holds a Specialist degree in Political Science from Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU) and has broad experience in qualitative studies.
Stepan Goncharov